Ari Picker, who for years participated in ill-fated geek-punk operations like the B-Sides and The Never, turns out to be quite the classicist. Performing as Lost In The Trees, Picker has gathered seven years’ worth of material for a solo album that incorporates academia with a generous dose of…whimsy? Time Taunts Me has enough titles like “Lost In The Snow,” ‘Tall Trees,” and “Time It Will Not Erase Me” to qualify as a mini-concept album, added to which is Picker’s avid interest in score-like imagery. So it won’t come as a surprise that Time Taunts Me is decidedly cinematic. It’s more thoughtful than anything the B-Sides did, to be sure.
Lost In The Trees is not strictly Picker, however. It’s Picker with a little help from his friends, who add most of the esoterica to Picker’s mostly straightforward compositions. Other Berklee College of Music alumni can be found among a 9-piece orchestra that includes viola, upright bass, melodica, and (possibly) triangle. It’s not a full-on collective any more than Sufjan Stevens and any of his musicians are, but the bold and winning work done by Stevens with his mini-orchestra is a steady primer for Lost In The Trees, which has the same fondness for eclectic detail, if not a commensurate level of game.
“Lost In The Snow,” the album opener, starts like it’s about to be a Missy Elliott song. (I swear). There’s a snappy little snare and a snaky keyboard, except Picker then proceeds to gets his freak on with a cello. The orchestra comes with a flourish, steps aside for a jolt of gently-picked guitar, surges again, then recedes for a frippering of French horn. Picker nearly ruins it with a perfectly awkward lyric—”you’ve lost your head in the snow/ and you can’t find your way home“—but it’s nearly breathtaking.
Next is “Time Taunts Me” which starts with a trickle of piano and a melancholy vocal—”time taunts me/ says you’re getting older/ and you’re growing colder“—before segueing into another mad dash of frantically-sawed strings. “Tall Trees” in its opening seconds recalls Jeff Buckley’s exquisite “Lover You Should Have Come Over,” not that it quite delivers. If it’s becoming apparent that Time Taunts Me is filled with feints toward promise and end-runs that get thrown for a loss, that’s about the size of it. It’s the old story of a record being front-loaded, except in this case it’s the songs themselves that are front-loaded, as a few near-mesmeric first minutes dwindle toward a perfect pitch of ordinary by song’s end.
The closest Picker comes to a fully realized piece is “If You’re Afraid Of The Dark” which develops a nice one-two punch of juggling two-note piano and ride cymbal, complete with gaga-like harmonies and Picker advising “if you’re afraid of the dark/ take a walk through your thoughts.” I’m not sure what that means, mind you. But it sounds kind of dark, at least.
Sufjan Stevens – Greetings From Michigan
Tindersticks – Trouble Every Day
The Album Leaf – One Day I’ll Be On Time
MP3: “Tall Trees”